Le Mans Series: Traveling and Arriving

As a person who has never flown by themselves, let alone ever been out of the country, traveling to Le Mans was a new and big experience for me. My parents brought me to the airport, helped me check my bag, and ate dinner with me. They were not permitted to go through TSA check with me, so they sat and watched me move through the line from the bar, taking pictures and smiling and waving rather embarrassingly. I had flown before, but I had always had my mom or dad to tell me what to do next and where to go, so my nerves, along with my excitement, were bubbling up as I made my way through the line. Despite any subtle emotions of terror at the long trip before me, I remained surprisingly calm, wanting to prove to myself and those around me that I knew what I was doing. The last thing I wanted to do with this trip is be labeled the “Confused American Girl” before I had even landed in France, where I’m sure I’ll get that label enough when I’m there.

TSA check was a breeze, and I collected my things from the belt and quickly put my Birkenstocks back on my bare feet. I then called my parents, whom were less than 100 yards away from me on the other side, to say goodbye and wave to them through the crowd. I boarded the shuttle that took me to the terminal, and set off to find my gate. I flew out of Pittsburgh airport and was very happy to find that the airport was extremely organized and I had absolutely no trouble finding anything. It is almost like a straight line you walk down with everything clearly labeled from arriving to departing.

After boarding my plane, I adjusted my neck pillow and slipped my headphones in my ear. It was a nearly 8 hour flight, luckily at night, so I got to sleep for at least half of it. It was incredibly surreal landing in France. It simply didn’t feel real. The shuttle bus took all of the passengers to the airport where I then had to find my luggage. The next part got a little interesting. I walked through a long line, got my passport stamped, and went to find the train station that the other Akron students would be at. As I was making my way there, I got very confused about what “customs” was. In my head, it was someone checking your belongings thoroughly and then giving you the green light. Worried I had accidently skipped it, I asked a woman at the information desk where it was. She seemed confused and told me if I was here then I was fine. Still unconvinced, I went to another information desk and explained the situation. He asked for my passport and then showed me it had been stamped at the booth that I had so easily passed by. I guess I was expecting something more nerve wracking than a simple stamp. I immediately felt the label “Confused American Girl” burning into my forehead as I said “Merci, au revoir,” over my shoulder, trying to pick up a little bit of my dignity and show I wasn’t totally incompetent.

After making my way to the train station, I found a restroom, and much to my surprise, they were charging for the use of the bathroom. Baffled as to why that was necessary, I asked “I have to pay to use the bathroom?” The woman’s replied “Yes,” in a French accent, an expression that read “duh” on her face. I asked if there was a free one and she said the 4th floor. Exhausted and feeling gross after the long flight, I paid the fee and changed there anyway.

After that, I spent a good half hour trying to find the other students in the train station. When I finally met up with them it was such a relief. We began talking and then boarded our train. Exhausted, most of us fell asleep during the ride. A group of French students met us at the train station and took us to the University where we filled out paperwork and got settled into our rooms.

This picture was taken of all of us meeting up at the train station in Paris. There is one girl not pictured who met us in Le Mans later that day. Our instructor told us to say “fromage!” (cheese), which is why some of us are not entirely smiling. I am in the back row with red hair and glasses.

Then the French students put out some French snacks and we got to talk with some of them. Our professor took us to the grocery store and then out to eat, but much to our disappointment not a lot of French restaurants were open, so our first official meal in France was at McDonalds… oops.

All of us American students; we may look a little rough after our plane and train rides, some not sleeping at all for 1-2 days. ( Top Left to right: Clarke, Tarike, Jessica, Addy, and Kate. Bottom Left to right: Alec, T’amor, me (Emily), Caitlyn, and Amanda).

One of the French faculty members served us wine our first day. (Don’t worry, the legal drinking age is 18 in France)

So far, we have had a few classes and have since gotten to eat breakfast at a pattisserie  and lunch at a crepe shop, so we are doing better. Myself and three others had the misfortune of not making it off the tram (like a bus and train in one) in time, and the doors closed before all ten of us could get off. It was pouring rain and we had to get off at the next stop, cross the tracks, wait for the next tram, and from there get off and walk through the pouring rain to our dorms. Oh, and did I mention I had a white shirt on? Not fun….but the whole thing was actually hilarious…. So it was kind of fun.

It is hard to believe that I haven’t even been in this country and with these people for two days, and yet it feels like we all belong here in this town together. I am so excited to spend an entire month in this beautiful country with all of these amazing people. Until next time, Au Revoir!